tv Sanjay Gupta MD CNN December 29, 2012 1:30pm-2:00pm PST
two firefighters were fatally shot and two others wounded when they arrived to put out a fire at william spengler's house. police say this woman, dawn wen, the gunman's neighbor, illegally bought the gun used by spengler. and here's what's trending online. forget about that fiscal cliff. 9 nation is also facing a dairy cliff. there is a deadline looming for congress that would impact every single dairy farm in this country. and the price you pay for milk if congress doesn't approve an extension to the farm bill by january 1st, prices could eventually jump to 8 or $9 a gallon. and a new look for a major league baseball team. check out the snazzy new hat design for the atlanta braves. cnn "newsroom" continues at the top of the hour, but first dr. sanjay gupta's investigation reveals startling truths about prescription drug abuse in the u.s. why it's much easier than you think to take that deadly dose.
"dr. sanjay gupta md" starts right now. [ sirens ] >> this is a drug overdose call. every 19 minutes in the united states, someone dies of an accidental overdose. >> this is crazy. not a single solitary one of these people has to die. >> we're used to thinking of it starting here, looking like this. but something happened in this country. and now increasingly, it starts here, in your own home. >> went to sleep, he had no idea this was going to be his last night on earth. >> were misusing perfectly legal prescription drugs. taking a deadly toes. dose. ♪ [ phone ringing ] >> this is deborah.
>> hello. i'm a little concerned i may have taken something that wasn't good for me on accident. [ phone ringing ] >> i took methadone from my grandpa. >> okay. >> and they were ten milligrams. >> what you're listening to are actual calls at the washington poison center in seattle. >> just drowsy, okay. >> and lately, more and more of them sound something like this. >> yesterday i took about 90 milligrams of perkocet. >> oh, you did? >> 6:00, i wasn't really thinking, and i did a bar of xanax and i'm reading this stuff online about how that's a lethal combination. i have a lot of friends who died in my sleep and i just wasn't really thinking. so now i'm wondering if i should stay up tonight. >> that kind of call to me is really scary. >> oh, it is scary. >> what goes through your mind? >> i would be very frightened about that young man not making it through the night. >> dr. bill hurley is the medical director of the poison
center. he's also a trauma doctor. >> possibly too many of his meds, they're not sure what all they've got. >> we are here in seattle in part because the problem is bad. >> this bottle still has quite a bit in it. >> but also because, as you will see, there are real solutions. >> no other meds. >> for hurley, it started five years ago. >> he's got pinpoint pupils. >> he started noticing overdoses, a lot of them, coming through his e.r. doors. >> we thought these are guys on the street maybe using heroin. >> but looking deeper, he realized they weren't junkies, not at all. it usually began with a back sprain. >> they were taking these medications not to get high, but to try to control pain. in most cases, back pain. and then they were mixing them with other medications and having fatal reactions to that. >> a lot of people have back pain, a lot of people take pain medications for that pain. and what you're saying is a lot of those people are then dying. >> yeah, a lot of them are dying and a lot of people in our culture right now are at risk of
dying from the exact same thing. >> car crashes are no longer the number-one reason people die accidentally in the united states. nowadays, it's actually prescription drugs. that's because on any given day, people take more than the recommended dose. mix and match, or take medications not prescribed to them. maybe take pills with alcohol. and all of it can make for a deadly dose. in fact, the most recent data shows 37,000 drug overdose deaths in one year. mostly accidental. about 21,000 involve prescription drugs. and of those, 75% were pain killers. >> this could be you, it could be me. >> and that's the point. it could be anyone. [ sirens ] >> on december 19th, 2011,
benjamin gupta, a long mba student at george washington university died suddenly, mysteriously. he's no relationship to me, but when his family got word, they spent hours trading phone calls. they were in stunned disbelief. >> there was a message from his mom. and she had left three m for me. so i knew there was something wrong. and i called her back, and i said, "what happened?" and she says, "it's ben. he died." i didn't have any information. >> i finally said, "how did this happen?" and she said he went to sleep the night before, and he just never woke up. >> he's always smiling, you know, in every picture. >> for days, ben gupta's family was desperate for answers. what killed him? he was only 28 years old.
he had recently been given a clean bill of health. how could he just not wake up? >> and then the thought went through my mind that maybe it was some sort of brain aneurysm or something must have happened. >> but his father was in for a shock after a conversation with a doctor who performed ben's autopsy. >> he called me and he says, yes, you know, they found oxycodone in his system. >> he tells you, he believes that your son died of an overdose of narcotics. >> yeah, right. >> did you think it was possible? what you knew of your son? >> no. no. >> he worked for the state department and he was going to graduate in a year with a dual law and mba degree, the type of person where it just doesn't even run through your head he's having a problem because he does so well. >> stuart bridge was a close friend of ben's. they met in grammar school.
ben told stuart that he and his new gir girlfriend had tried oxycodone and they thought it was no big deal. >> it's not something that i'm seeking out, but it's something i've tried. >> anyone else might just shrug off that conversation. but bridge wasn't just a friend. he's also a doctor. and he warned ben about taking oxycodone and about mixing it with alcohol. >> i have seen people die who are on these medications or who oh have experimenteded with these medications. >> the line between experimentation and death, it turns out, is tenuous. oxycodone and other pain killers like it are what's called central nervous system or cns depressants. they slow down the body's vital functions, breathing, heart rate, blood pressure. that's not usually a problem when the pills are prescribed for you. but when you add them to other cns depressants, like alcohol or other prescription drugs, the effect is multiplied.
the nervous system slows and is slows until breathing, heart rate, brain function, all grind to a halt. ben's deadly dose, according to his girlfriend, was drinking beer and scotch throughout the day, along with an unknown quantitity of oxycodone. ben fell asleep in front of the tv. and by the next morning, he had stopped breathing. >> it's almost what makes it even more frightening. that he went to sleep and he had no idea this was going to be his last night on earth. he had no idea this was going to be it. >> you explained what happened to my friend to me in two sentences. >> i first learned about ben gupta's story when i got a phone call just after his death from former president bill clinic to be's. ben's father is an old friend of the clintons. >> what kind of a kid was he? >> a light shined out of him.
that's all i can tell you. he grew up, he was big, strong, handsome, smart. and wanted to make something of his life. he was industrious, but he was normal. he liked to have a good time. he had -- i promise you that night, he had no idea that he was turning out the lights. none. and if it's true of him, it's got to be true of a lot of other people. >> he finds some solace from his son's death by funding programs that educate people about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs. and recently, he made a $1 million pledge to the clinton global nitiative, to support the former president's new-found passion about this issue. >> he said, i have been very fortunate. and my son was worth $1 million. >> it's still hard to talk about. >> oh, it is, it is. >> do you think it ever won't be? >> no. i think about him all of the time. like in d.c. today, so i went
walking on the gw campus. looking for him. >> you were looking for him. >> yes. and i could feel it. i could feel him. every day i just think about him. every day. >> we've seen absolutely skyrocketing of overdose deaths, and it correlates directly with a number of prescriptions that are written. to the global phenon we call the internet of everything. ♪ it's going to be amazing. and exciting. and maybe, most remarkably, not that far away. we're going to wake the world up. and watch, with eyes wide, as it gets to work. cisco. tomorrow starts here.
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>> in cities across the country, this scene plays out every day. i saw it myself on a ride-along with lieutenant john fisk of the seattle fire department. >> the person had three die law did i do, two methadone. >> an anti seizure medication and couple of powerful pain killers. >> he may have stock piled some of his own and take it afterwards. >> it's called stacking. prescription pills stacked on top of other pills. each one amplifying the previous one's effect. >> i'd say it probably began about ten years ago. >> dr. steven anderson, an er dr. in washington state sees the end result of stacking virtually every time he goes to work. >> i've taken two vicodin before, no problem. i've taken a valium to sleep
before, no problem. i've had a couple drinks before, no problem. but all of a sudden, you add all of those into the same scenario, and it adds up and causes the complications. >> you're talking about when you say stacking, it sounds like making it exponentially worse. >> exactly. >> here's why. pop a pain pill, and you get pain relief. and at the same time, your breathing slows down. even after the pain relief wears off, that slowed breathing persists, sometimes for hours. now, if you pop another pain pill before it's time, you depress the breathing even more. some of the deadliest combinations, high-dose pain killers stacked on other pain killers. pain killers stacked with anti-anxiety medications. or pain killers mixed with alcohol. >> we have seen absolute skyrocketing of overdose deaths and it correlates directly with the number of prescriptions that are written.
>> the problem in part is that here in the united states, we are being flooded with pain killers. consider this. americans take 80% of the world's pain killers. 80%. distribution of morphine, which is the main ingredient in most popular pain killers, increased by 600% between 1997 and 2007. pain couldn't have increased that much in ten years. but pain killers did. it's become a lucrative business, and with so many pills out there, there's no broad system in place for doctors and pharmacies to keep track of it all. and, again, every 19 minutes, we see the consequence. and that doesn't even account for people like this man. who came close, too close to dying. thankfully, he survived. an overdose is not the only side effect associated with powerful pain killers. >> when did you stop taking
opiates? >> dr. jane valentine is an anesthesiologist at the university of washington. >> we have very good physical therapists. >> ten years ago while treating patients on high doses of pain killers, she found something surprising. not only were those patients not getting pain relief, but the pain killers were, in fact, doing something that could best be described as the opposite. making patients more sensitive to pain. it's called hyper al geez i can't. >> hyper al geez i can't was so obvious in those patients that you could, for example, see they couldn't bear the sheet on them or any intravenous stick was abnormally painful to them. >> you said that this has essentially been 20 years of failed experiment. >> i would never suggest that we shouldn't continue to prescribe for those that are really helped by opiates. people who have a real need. but the way we do it at the moment is actually harming more patients than it helps. [ cellphone chirping ]
former president bill clinton's familiarity with pain killers goes back to when he lived in the white house. >> have you ever been prescribed a medication like this? >> well, i did take some pain killers when i tore my -- 90% of my quadriceps, but i tried to be careful and i was in a lot of pain. >> and here's after leaving the oval office. he would once again need pain pills. he says he and his doctors were cautious. >> after my heart surgery, you know, when i was -- i hurt pretty bad for three weeks. so i got some medicine. but i really tried to get off of it as quick as i could. and my doctors were really good about it, telling me, you know, take this if it's killing you, but be careful. [ phone ringing ] >> poison center, this is rosie. >> be careful. it's a warning that might prevent call after call pouring
in here at the washington poison center. >> poison center, this is deborah. >> i wasn't getting pain relief, i took too many oxycodone. i tookum, five ten-milligram oxycodone and i feel shaky and i'm just nervous. >> so how did we quietly become a country inundated with pain pills? some believe it all began when pain was designated the fifth vital sign. >> i think physicians around year 2000 started to get pushed to better manage pain. and the physicians in our culture, that means give out more medication. >> so pain becomes a vital sign. laws are passed liberalizing the use of opioids for more than just cancer or chronic pain patients. that creates new marketing opportunities for aggressive pharmaceutical companies. doctors prescribe the drugs for
legitimate reasons. but also for conditions that could be treated with much milder medications or with therapy. the result? we prescribe enough pain pills to give every man, woman and child a dose every four hours for three weeks. rember, 80% of the world's opioids are used by americans. >> 80%. does that surprise you? >> no, because -- >> is that a cultural -- >> yes -- >> -- problem? >> it is cultural. people think i've got a headache or i've got this, or my elbow is sore or whatever. and, look, i don't want to minimize. there are a lot of people who live courageous lives in constant pain. but there's no question that since we represent 5% of the world's people, we have no business popping as many pills as we do. >> problem is, misuse is rampant. in 2010, about 12 million americans reported using pain killers without a prescription or medical need. and that number, every 19
minutes, someone died. the challenge, of course, is finding ways to stop misuse, addiction, and death without cutting off a lifeline. >> life starts to lose some of its meaning when you're in chronic pain. >> i have seen her curled up in a fetal position for hours. what's...that... on your head? can curlers! tomato basil, potato with bacon... we've got a lot of empty cans. [ male announcer ] progresso. you gotta taste this soup.
you're taking more than we now consider a safe dose. >> washington state has been one of the places hit hardest by the prescription drug overdose epidemic. >> i think this is the worst epidemic in history. >> dr. gary franklin is medical director for the state of washington's department of labor and industries. >> when is the first time this even became an issue that you had noticed? >> by 2001, our claims managers were sending me cases of injured workers who had had a low back
sprain and were dead three years later from an unintentional overdose of prescribed opioids. it was the saddest thing i had ever seen. >> so he took action, helping write guidelines that this year became state law. it applies to noncancer chronic pain patients. it mandates prescriber education. treatment plans called pain contracts between physicians and patients. and tracking of opioid use. >> if states don't renew laws using best practices and precautions so opioids can be used safely and effectively, this will never turn around. >> the washington state law does have its share of critics, many of whom are patients dealing with pain right now. >> i have seen her curled up in a fetal position for hours, even crying at times. >> in tacoma, washington, christie and burt, husband and wife, are both in pain. his caused by multiple
sclerosis. >> my leg is constantly being electrocuted from the inside out. >> hers caused by a car accident 16 years ago. >> i was in a big old '77 chevrolet station wagon, bent it in half. i looked in my rear-view mirror and i could actually see the woman putting mascara on and i knew i was in trouble. >> putting on mascara. >> yes. yep. that i could see. and she just plowed right into me. unfortunately, to this day, still have back issues because of it. >> are you in pain right now? >> i am. yeah. the pain medications make a huge difference, thank goodness. without them, i don't think i would be able to work a full-time job. >> but she says after the new state law passed, no doctor would treat her. how hard has it been to find doctors no give you the medications you want? >> since this law passed, it's been incredibly difficult. i ended up calling multiple
clinics. i would call and say -- first words out of their mouth, if you want pain medications, forget about it. we're done. >> christie believes doctors are turning away patients because they see prescribing any pain medication as a risk. >> a lot of them didn't even look at them. and we're not inclined to prescribe me the medications i was on. i just didn't think i could handle one more doctor's visit and feeling like i am being attacked and being treated as a liar. >> but doctors here say the guidelines, first published in 2007 as voluntary, are reversing the overdose epidemic in their state. >> between 2008 and 2010, we saw about a 20% decline in the state in the number of deaths. >> possible solutions for washington state. but what about the rest of the country? do you think that it's